Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ok, so I'm a little late on this album review. It's proven to be a bit difficult to consistently post a monthly album review in the midst of a military career, and a life with a wife and kid. Needless to say, I've been busy. Apologies to those who have been waiting (which at this point, isn't many of you, yet).

From now on, I'll just post album reviews when I'm able. And I probably won't do the 'verdict' and 'ruling' thing either. Doesn't feel right; isn't my style.

And now on with the review!

CROW BLACK SKY - Pantheion [2011]

Formed only as recently as 2009, this six-piece known as Black Crow Sky bring a pretty unique blend of melodic black and death metal to the mix. Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, the band releases their debut album “Pantheion” in 2010, and makes a very good impression on my ears. The debut album is strong, progressive, creative, chock full of melody, and it demands quality musicianship from its contributors.

The album starts off with a symphonic keyboard intro, as is the standard for a lot of melodic black metal albums nowadays. It sets the mood of the album with a movie-esque, dark piece. Not much can be said about the track, other than it fit’s the mood of the album pretty well, and it glides the listener right along into the second track, “Dissention”. Here is where you’re greeted with guitars with a thick but dispersed tone, well-mixed keys, vocal scream and drums. Shortly after the initial riffs come some lightning-fast double bass work, then the album finally lifts off with some driving blast beats and guitar harmonies.

One of the most prominent and best features on this album is the guitar compositions. About 75% of all the guitar riffs on the album are harmonized, providing some very tasteful compositional work. You can hear a lot of classical influence in the guitars. The members of Crow Black Sky have a clear command of their instruments, especially the guitar arrangements, provided by Chris Gilbert and Gideon Lamprecht. They incorporate a lot of intricate harmonies and counterpoint during single-note passages. The first blast beat riff during “Dissention” is just one small example of their exemplary harmonic riff work. A few sections of “Stars of God”, and significant portions of the almost 11-minute epic “Our Path Disdained” show this as well. This album is heavily concentrated on guitar harmonies, and there’s plenty of them to be enjoyed. The guitar tone is fairly dense, but also smooth and slick sounding. The tone isn’t harsh; each of the guitars blend well with each other (and the rest of the band), and doesn’t get carried away with loads of gain and crunch.

Lawrence Jaeger’s drum work is right on track with the overall sound and atmosphere - never over-doing anything. Blast beats are evident through the album, but not dominating. A lot of the drummer’s work is oriented on groove and feel, which is refreshing in comparison to a lot of other bands of this genre. Melody, focus and groove are some of the strongest elements this band presents. Given the double bass work, and very well-executed drum fills, it’s obvious the guy knows what he’s doing behind the kit. I do have a complaint with the drums - the kick drums are not very present in some tracks. They could be turned up just a touch. The rest of the kit, however, sounds great. The mix of the drumkit sounds atmospheric, open and set back in the overall mix, which is a big preference to me. The kit’s presence in the spectrum of instrumentation is right where it should be, in context of the album’s dark atmosphere.

Vocals, brought forth by Ryan Higgo, stay in the medium range consistently. The vocals are not quite death metal, and not quite black metal. The vocal work is consistent through the album. They’re not the best vocals, and at some parts, I can’t really make up my mind if they completely fit the music. But they are definitely not the worst. My biggest concern with the vocals are the presence - they often seem a little too loud and dominant in the mix. I personally would prefer to have the vocals set back a little bit, and not have them not so quite ‘in your face’. Overall, the vocals aren’t the best, but they certainly don’t kill the mood. My issues with them are minor. Lyrical content contains a lot of anti-religion, tales of epic war and battle, and so on. I’m not a huge lyrical analyst, but from what I understand, “Stars of God” is basically about one’s complete denouncement of religion, which I can relate to. “Our Path Disdained” tells a story of the narrator heeding to a call to arms, leaving his love and his home to fight in war, and eventually returns. So essentially, their lyrics tell various tales of war, religion and the like, which a lot of metal fans can relate to. If lyric interpretation isn’t your strong suit (like myself), then there’s plenty of skillful musicianship to keep your ears busy.

The album contains four instrumentals (five, including the instrumental version of “Our Path Disdained” added as a bonus track), and they are arranged to flow the album together. As to be expected, it works quite well. The most powerful, impressive arrangement is the “A Shadow Consumes the Desert Sun” track, which transitions right into the title track. This two-track arrangement is very well executed. “A Shadow Consumes…” sets the soundscape of a vast, open desert. The track contains a period of atmospheric instruments and other sound effects, then transitions into a very tribal-sounding jam. The jam then flows into the heavy, opening riffs of “Pantheion”, a song that tells a story of Egyptian folklore. This two-track opus was arranged very well, and is a near-perfect way to make use of the title track. “Our Path Disdained” is another epic album highlight, spanning a little over 10 minutes. This song shows that the band has a strong grasp on progressive writing.

The album runs about 55 minutes, excluding the instrumental version of “Our Path Disdained” (about an hour and 5 minutes, including the bonus track), and I found every minute highly enjoyable. Crow Black Sky has made a very good first impression with this well-crafted, solid debut album. Minus a few minor quirks I have regarding production, this album is rock solid. Not to mention, the band made the album available for free download, through their website. This album is worth paying for, and it is definitely worth legally downloading. Fans of melodic death/black metal need to give this band a listen. They are refreshingly different in the widely spanned genre.

Verdict: 8.5/10 - a very enjoyable listen from a seemingly matured metal act.